mon 03/08/2020

Capuçon, BBCPO, Mena, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - awesome unity | reviews, news & interviews

Capuçon, BBCPO, Mena, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - awesome unity

Capuçon, BBCPO, Mena, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - awesome unity

A UK premiere for Shchedrin plus two Shostakovich masterpieces

The BBC Philharmonic in the Bridgewater HallBBC Philharmonic

Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is a big work in every sense: four movements, plus a solo cadenza before the last one that makes it seem almost like five; a soloist’s role that even David Oistrakh (for whom it was first written) found taxing; symphonic construction and instrumentation which make the orchestral contribution at least as important as the solo one.

In the hands of Renaud Capuçon (pictured below by François Darmigny) and the BBC Philharmonic under Juanjo Mena in Manchester it received the quality of performance it needs, and then some. Capuçon was in front of an orchestra including 60 strings, and with tuba and contrabassoon as well as the usual suspects, but they did not outshine him. Both the Scherzo and Burlesque finale require extraordinary virtuosity – and so does the cadenza – and he delivered all the fireworks. If there was one drawback in it all it was the extra percussion effect coming from his right foot on the floor in the fiercest passages: that may even be audible in the broadcast of the concert (on Thursday) and it was certainly audible in the hall.

Renaud CapuconBut the spirit was there, and he and Mena brought an awesome unity of purpose to the work, catching the pregnant passion of the opening theme for the cellos, plaintiveness in the solo wind playing, an eloquent balance of clowning and grimness in the Scherzo, and sweet and restful beauty in the third-movement Passacaglia (with wonderful playing from the Philharmonic’s two bassoons).

This was the second of four concerts by Juanjo Mena in his final season as chief conductor in the orchestra’s Bridgewater Hall series, and the only one to have an identifiably valedictory component – which came with Shostakovich’s final symphony, No 15, in the second half of the programme. But it began with a UK premiere, albeit of a work first unveiled 16 years ago.

Rodion Shchedrin’s Dialogues with Shostakovich was written for Mariss Jansons and Pittsburgh Symphony in 2001, to go alongside some of Shostakovich’s other music. It’s Shchedrin’s 85th birthday later this month (on Saturday), and this concert was one marking it in the UK. The piece calls for a large orchestra and a battery of percussion, which may account for its long wait for a UK first hearing. It’s also quite episodic (at least that was the impression), reflecting in succession a number of aspects of the music of the one Shchedrin calls "The Master", albeit through the refraction of a very individual voice.

Juanjo MenaSo there’s nothing so banal as straight quotation – but recognizable echoes including thunderous march (and mock-march) rhythms, squealing high wind trills, slow music for strings as agonizingly passionate and sorrow-laden as anything DSCH himself wrote, pathetic (in the right sense) little piccolo solos, and a lot of vigorous, open-textured counterpoint. Its twin opening crashes are repeated at the end – and then there’s a kind of echoed one … a valedictory gesture, perhaps.

Speaking of banal straight quotation … that’s precisely what Shostakovich did in his final symphony. For starters, it’s the tu-tu-tum, tu-tu-tum etc of Rossini’s William Tell Overture he chooses to quote, and you can’t get more banal than that. Then there’s the fate motif from Wagner’s Ring (in the finale). What was he up to? Doing something he always did very well, which is to combine the ridiculous and the sublime.

Mena (pictured right by Michal Nowak) was very well aware of that, and in the opening Allegro he brought out the abrupt change of mood in mid-movement which happens despite surface appearances and underlines the fact that Shostakovich’s jollity almost always has a grim side to it. The orchestral playing in the anguished Adagio, both from principal cello Maria Zachariadou and from the brass chorus, was noble, warm and perfectly balanced, and guest leader Michael Foyle made a signal contribution in solos, too. The Phil’s wind principals and percussion ensemble were spot-on in the ironically lively Allegretto, and the finale, after moving and sensitive muted string playing, was brought to a huge climax, given suitably crucial emphasis in Mena’s pacing, before the weird and tantalizing conclusion.

This was the only concert in Mena's final season as chief conductor to have an identifiably valedictory component


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Excellent review; the concert was just that good. Not having bought a programme I am interested to see that the guest leader was Michael Foyle; he looked very fetching in that frock!

The leader was Zoe Beyers.

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